The US laptop flight ban: what you need to know

22 March 2017

US flight ban on laptops, tablets, devices from Middle East

You’ve probably heard about the new ‘laptop ban’ that’s soon to apply to flights from specific Middle Eastern countries. While it’s not quite as controversial as other recent travel restrictions implemented in the US, it’s sure to be inconvenient for business travelers and frequent flyers: here’s what we know so far about the new policy.

Which countries are affected?

If you’re traveling to the US from any of eight Muslim-majority countries, you’ll no longer be able to take any device larger than a mobile phone into the aircraft cabin. Instead, you’ll need to pack all larger electronics into your checked luggage. The ban will apply to laptops, tablets, e-readers and Kindles, large cameras, and any electronic device that’s bigger than a standard smartphone.

The restrictions have been rolled out by The Department of Homeland Security and will go into effect immediately. So far, the new requirement will apply to the following ten airports in eight countries across the Middle East:

  • Queen Alia International, Jordan
  • Cairo International, Egypt
  • Ataturk International, Turkey
  • King Abudlaziz International, Saudi Arabia
  • King Khalid International, Saudi Arabia
  • Kuwait International, Kuwait
  • Mohammed V International, Morocco
  • Doha International, Qatar
  • Dubai International, United Arab Emirates
  • Abu Dhabi International, United Arab Emirates

While American airlines won’t be affected, carriers from the above countries will need to comply with the new regulations. Airlines that will be required to implement these restrictions include Royal Jordanian, Egypt Air, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates, and Etihad.

Homeland Security states that increased security needs regarding terrorism have led to the changes, citing specific incidents in 2015 and 2016 as causes for concern. While the ban applies to all non-smartphone electronic devices, exceptions will reportedly be made for medical devices.

Following on from the US announcement, the United Kingdom is also implementing a device ban from selected Middle Eastern flights. Laptops, tablets and larger electronics are now banned from the cabin of any UK-bound flight from EgyptJordanLebanonSaudi Arabia, Tunisia or Turkey. this good or bad?

Unfortunately, it seems the US policy may extend to some 'phablets', or super-sized cell phones. Restrictions apply to devices with dimensions of 16cm x 9.3cm or larger; while the iPhone 7 Plus, the Google Pixel XL, and the Samsung Galaxy S7 are all okay to fly, bigger phablets such as the HTC U Ultra don't make the cut.

Even with allowances for smartphones, the move is sure to cause a headache for travelers, with increased queues and screening times likely for customers unaware of the stricter policy. It could also create additional privacy concerns for flyers who may have their device subjected to searches without their knowledge or consent.

Another possibility? Exiling all large electronics to a plane’s cargo hold could cause more safety problems than it actually solves. Fires started by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are not uncommon, and a blaze caused by an exploding or sparking device battery – as seen recently in the now-recalled Galaxy Note7 – could prove disastrous.

Both the US and UK device bans are effective now, and appear to be indefinite. So if you’re an affected traveler looking to avoid in-flight boredom, you may just have to to bring a good book (or in extreme cases, Ambien) on your next long-haul trip to the US.

Woman using laptop on flight image via Shutterstock 

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